The 2017 edition of the Secondary Schools Football League has arguably been the most controversial ever with one team being kicked out of the league and the reigning champions Shiva Boys losing points due to fielding a player improperly registered. On Friday, the Fraud Squad visited Fyzabad Secondary as their investigations into the false CSEC passes of two of their footballers widened. The players were accepted into Form Six but did not have the required passes until their certificates were tampered with.
People who have been involved in the SSFL in some form or fashion, have told Newsday, the practice of secondary school football teams trying to get an unfair advantage is nothing new. However, they believe the situation must be resolved as the league is an integral part of the development of local football.
Former FIFA referee and ex-principal of St Augustine Secondary, Osmond Downer, said a situation such as this is not unique.
Downer used the example of two institutions in the past that tried to bend and even break the rules of the schools league. “If you take your mind back to when John Donaldson and San Fernando Technical were expelled from the Colleges League, it was because something very similar occurred,” Downer said.
He noted some school footballers in the 1980s would repeat Fifth Form to play football again. If they were not accepted into Sixth Form after repeating Fifth Form, John Donaldson and San Fernando Technical enrolled these students although some of them were already 19 years old. Downer said he once heard a rumour that a former national footballer, who played for San Fernando Technical, signed up for needlework at the institution but never attended any classes while being a member of the school team.
“They were able to play for John Donaldson and San Fernando Tech which was a great disadvantage to the other schools in the league.
These fellas were playing for four and five years and they were older than the normal schoolboy. We examined the whole thing and we removed the two institutions from the Colleges Football League.”
A handful of players who eventually played for the Strike Squad were part of the San Fernando Technical team in the 1980s. Special provisions are made for students who make a major contribution to their school through football or other extra-curricular activities. These students are accepted into Sixth Form with four passes, while other students must have five CSEC passes to be considered for Sixth Form.
Other than John D and San Fernando Tech in the past, it has become very common for schools to recruit players to strengthen their football team. It is not only done for football, as some prestige “cricket schools” have also developed the practice.
SSFL must get itself in order
Former national defender Brent Sancho said teams trying to boost their chances by the hook or by the crook has been a talking point for some time now.
Sancho said, “When I played, and even before that, you heard about a lot of stories, whether true or not, of these type of things happening or probably even worse…now you are talking about television coverage and a bit more is at stake so it is coming a little more into the light.”
Sancho, a defender for TT at the 2006 World Cup, said unfortunately the SSFL is getting a bad image in a season where the standard of football has been fairly high. “It is very unfortunate what has taken place off the pitch, because I believe the football has been at a decent level this year. You see a lot of players with potential to hopefully go on and represent the country and maybe even go on to bigger things.”
He praised the SSFL for their quick response in the matter and suggested that an Independent Committee is created to handle any future situations like the one facing Fyzabad Secondary. “I give the league credit for dealing with it, but moving forward, they have to come up with the solution so these discrepancies don’t happen again. I think they need an Independent Committee that would filter everything and have rules in place before the start of the league, to make sure that these situations don’t occur again.”
Sancho, who played schools football for Trinity College (Moka) and former powerhouse Malick Secondary between the late 1980s and the mid 1990s, believes a positive solution can be found. “The league needs to take stock in general, in everything, in all capacities. Everybody needs to sit down with that in mind and look for a positive outcome and not berate and point fingers. We have seen some potential in the league and I think the SSFL has something good going on,” Sancho said.
Footballers must not neglect academics
Downer, also a former president of the TT Referees Association, admitted he recruited players to St Augustine for football, but he ensured that the footballers were maintaining their grades. He referred to the system in USA, explaining when an athlete is given a scholarship to attend a university, they must achieve in the classroom.
Downer said, “A lot of these athletes who get American college (university) scholarships for sport, when they go, they don’t only play the sport; they have to pass in their academic pursuits, if not, they are thrown out. I wonder if the schools (in the SSFL) that recruit players make sure that their academic requirements are fulfilled. That is my big problem. I have nothing against them recruiting players, but don’t recruit them only to play football.”
Downer said when some footballers leave secondary school, they may struggle to find employment. “That is doing the students themselves harm, because when they finish at the school, they are not qualified for anything. That to me is an injustice to the players and that has happened in many cases.” National goalkeeper Adrian Foncette said it was sad to see Fyzabad kicked out of the league. He said if students are accepted in Sixth Form without the required passes, they will suffer in the long run.
“It was a little disheartening the way that Fyzabad was thrown out. If they (the footballers) were able to do that (enter Form Six just for football), after the football season was finished, what was going to happen with the students? If they came back just to play football, what is going to happen after (they leave school), because not all of them are going to pursue football (as a career). The state the country is in right now, you really need something to fall back on and education is a real important part of it.”
Foncette, who played for Fatima College from 2004 to 2008, said playing schools football allowed him to get a scholarship to study at the University of Albany in USA. “Schools football really paved the way in terms of starting to play at a more competitive level. I was able to get a scholarship and I went abroad and studied for four years.”
Foncette said the Fyzabad situation is nothing new, but believes it is more prevalent now. “You heard about those situations happening before, but not to the extent of how much it is happening now.” The national goalkeeper says the SSFL reputation may be tarnished and parents may be hesitant to allow their children to compete in the league. “It is really not looking good because people use to dream of playing schools football. It might deter some parents from allowing their children to play because you don’t know what type of negative impact it could have on them.”